Now that you’re eating for two, you’ll want to make sure that you’re doing it the right way. Some women use pregnancy as an excuse to go overboard with their food choices and ultimately gain too much weight. Do you know how many calories you really need? How about specific nutrients – which ones do you need more of during these nine months? What should you eat when you’re nauseous and nothing sounds good? Here’s what you need to know about eating for two.
Surprisingly enough, you only need about 300 more calories a day than you needed to maintain your weight pre-pregnancy. That equates to a bowl of oatmeal, a banana, and a glass of milk. Not a whole lot more than you were eating before the bun got into the oven. If you are exercising, then you should take in an additional 300 calories for every 30 minutes of activity. Pregnancy is no time to diet and lose weight. Similarly, you have to be careful not to put on too much weight too quickly, as it increases the risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. Aim for a 2-5 pound gain during your first trimester and a gain of a pound a week for the remainder of the pregnancy.
You know how important calcium is for bone and teeth development. If you do not take in enough calcium, your developing baby will tap into your calcium stores (in your bones) to use for its development, leaving you with weakened bones. Aim for 1,000-1,200 mg of Calcium a day. Of course, the best sources are dairy products (nonfat milk and yogurt), where 1 cup has 300-400 mg of calcium. Other good sources include dark green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified orange juice, broccoli, almonds, and fish with the bones. If you do not tolerate dairy foods, make sure to take a calcium supplement twice a day (500 mg each time), once with lunch and the other before bed. It’s also important to get vitamin D along with your calcium, as vitamin D helps with calcium absorption.
Iron is a mineral that makes up an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron also carries oxygen in muscles, helping them function properly. Iron helps increase your resistance to stress and disease, as well as reduce your symptoms of tiredness and irritability.
The body absorbs iron more efficiently during pregnancy; therefore it is important to consume more iron while you are pregnant to ensure that you and your baby are getting enough oxygen. To enhance iron’s absorption, make sure to get a source of vitamin C at the same time.
Pregnant women require 27 mg of iron a day and breastfeeding women need 15 mg. Before choosing a supplement, make sure to have your blood tested for signs of iron deficiency. The best food sources of iron include:
- Meat and Seafood: Lean beef, chicken, clams, crab, egg yolk, fish, lamb, liver, oysters, pork, sardines, shrimp, turkey, and veal.
- Vegetables: Black-eyed peas, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, collard and turnip greens, lima beans, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
- Legumes: Dry beans and peas, lentils, and soybeans.
- Fruits: All berries, apricots, dried fruits, including prunes, raisins and apricots, grapes, grapefruit, oranges, plums, prune juice, and watermelon.
- Breads and Cereals: Enriched rice and pasta, soft pretzel, and whole grain and enriched or fortified breads and cereals.
- Other Foods: Molasses, peanuts, pine nuts, pumpkin, or squash seeds.
A high-fiber diet is important for overall good health. We know that a diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts reduces your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and makes weight control so much easier. It also improves your skin, enhances memory, and gives you endless energy. The abundant antioxidants and phytochemicals found in a mostly plant-based diet makes it equally important for a healthy pregnancy. It probably doesn’t hurt that a fiber-rich diet will help with the constipation that you’ll likely experience during parts of your pregnancy. Oh yes, that’s a bonus!
Taking your prenatal vitamins, as well as a separate supplement of DHA (an Omega 3 fatty acid), should begin as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, unless you were diligently taking them before, in hopes of becoming pregnant. The folic acid in the supplement is so important for the formation of the neural tube, which takes place in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, usually before you even know that you’re pregnant. Other supplements you may require include calcium (if you can’t get enough from your diet) and iron (if your blood work shows anemia). Always check with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian before adding any supplements.
Foods to limit or Avoid
Now that you’re focusing on what to eat, you also need to pay attention to the foods you should limit or avoid for a healthy pregnancy. These foods can cause harm to your developing baby.
- Alcohol – can cause physical defects, learning disabilities, and emotional problems in children.
- Raw fish, unpasteurized dairy products, undercooked meat/poultry – can contain bacteria that can harm your unborn child
- High mercury fish: swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark
- Caffeine – more than four cups of coffee a day can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, and even stillbirth.
- Artificial sweeteners – saccharin and aspartame should be avoided during pregnancy, as we do not have conclusive evidence as to what these chemicals can do to your developing baby. Better safe than sorry.
What to eat when you’re nauseous and nothing sounds good
When you are non-stop nauseous and can barely keep anything down, the most important thing you can do is to stay hydrated. That’s your number one priority. If you can keep down the water, then try something bland and starchy – crackers, pretzels, graham crackers, toast, dry cereal – which should help with the nausea. Keep food intake to very small quantities, so not to overwhelm your stomach and have you running for the nearest toilet. If you are plagued by the dreaded first trimester nausea, know that it should pass by week 14, so the end is near. If you are one of the more extreme cases, where the nausea and vomiting doesn’t end and/or your weight is plummeting, make sure to call your doctor right away, as you may need to be hospitalized for fluids and nourishment.
The bottom line
A healthy, well-balanced diet will keep your energy level high, make it easier to gain the appropriate amount of weight, and ensure a healthy baby. Go for small, frequent mini-meals that focus on fresh produce, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, along with plenty of filtered water. Sure, the occasional hot fudge sundae or chili cheeseburger might make its way into your diet, but as long as it’s the exception and not the norm, then I say, “Enjoy!”